The Cable

SitRep: Link Between Russian Intel, Ukrainian Hack, DNC attack; Moscow Lashes Out at U.S. Tank Buildup

Trump Meets With Generals, Defense CEOs; NSA Whistleblower Trouble; Japan increases Defense Spending; And Lots More

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Tech crunch. A cybersecurity firm says it has uncovered evidence linking the group that hacked the Democratic National Committee to Russia’s military intelligence arm, and has concluded with “high confidence” that it was the entity behind the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

The report from CrowdSource that was released late Thursday linked malware used in the DNC cyber break-in to malware used to hack and track an Android phone app used by the Ukrainian army in its fight against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“The FBI, which has been investigating Russia’s hacks of political, government, academic and other organizations for several years, privately has concluded the same. But the bureau has not publicly drawn the link to the GRU,” the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima writes, using the acronym for the Russian military’s intel group.

The app used by Ukrainian troops helped calibrate their D-30 howitzers, and was available only to army officers who had requested the app from the officer who developed it. But once the GRU penetrated the app, the Russian-backed, and Russian-led separatists were able to locate the artillery pieces and hit them with accurate counterfire.

Certainty, belief and secret meetings. Every U.S. intelligence agency has agreed the hacks on the DNC were conducted by hackers working under orders from Russian government officials. President-elect Donald Trump has rejected the conclusion of the intelligence community, and his national security advisor, Mike Flynn, recently held a secret meeting with the leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, which has Nazi roots and has just signed a “cooperation” agreement with the Russian political party headed by Vladimir Putin.

No, tanks. Russia hammered the decision by The Netherlands to allow the U.S. Army to store dozens of tanks and heavy vehicles in a warehouse there as an anti-Russian move. “It looks like the Dutch authorities have started to get a taste for deliberately destroying relations with Russia,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.”It is not an aggressive but a defensive act,” Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders insisted. The move comes just as new brigades from the U.S., Germany, and the U.K. begin deploying on a temporary basis to facilities in NATO’s Baltic states.

Bills for the holidays. Meanwhile, Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have introduced legislation that would slap sanctions on foreigners who have interfered in U.S. elections, The Hill reports. The bill would not only bar entry, but also freeze their assets. “All 19 Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee signed on to the bill. So far it does not have any Republican cosponsors.”

Words and things. After an impromptu 2-minute “press conference” by Trump in front of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida Wednesday, everyone is again trying to figure out if PEOTUS means what he says. Asked about the violence in Berlin and Ankara, and if it would affect his ideas about banning Muslims from entering the United States, he said, “you know my plans. All along, I’ve been proven to be right. 100 percent correct. What’s happening is disgraceful.”

Authorities in Germany are searching for a Tunisian man identified as Anis Amri who was facing deportation after being caught with fake papers, as the prime suspect for driving a truck into a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people.

Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national  security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley

MAGAing

Team Trump is claiming that the President-elect has managed to lower the cost of the next Air Force One with the power of his thumbs. DOD Buzz reports that transition team member Anthony Scaramucci claimed that Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg agreed to cut the price of the presidential jet to less than $4 billion following a meeting with the President-elect. Trump raised the issue of Air Force One’s cost in a previous tweet alleging that “costs are out of control” on the project and that he should “cancel the order!” Following a meeting with Trump, Muilenburg told reporters that “We’re going to get it done for less than that.”

Trump’s Wednesday meeting with Boeing and Lockheed Martin CEOs indicates he might be a hands-on president when it comes to Pentagon acquisition. “Lockheed and Boeing are not just the first and second largest defense contractors in the world, but also share the dubious distinction of having come under fire from the president-elect’s Twitter account over the cost of the F-35 and Air Force One programs, respectively,” Defense News’ Aaron Mehta notes. When it comes to the troubled F-35 program, Trump said after the meeting, “it’s a program that’s very, very expensive,” but “it’s a dance. It’s a little bit of a dance, but we’re gonna get the cost down, and we’re gonna get it down beautifully.”

Japan

Japan is spending big — or at least bigger — on defense for the fifth year in a row, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Japanese cabinet approved a $44 billion budget for the country’s Self Defense Forces, a 1.4 percent increase year over year. As part of the spending, Japan is considering whether to buy American Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense ballistic missile defense systems to guard against North Korea’s growing missile programs and a new submarine in order to check China’s increasingly assertive maritime claims.

Russia

Russia tested a satellite-killing missile, according to Popular Mechanics, firing the PL-19 Nudol without aiming at or taking out a particular satellite. The system is designed to intercept ballistic missiles in their midcourse phase as they briefly exit the atmosphere for reentry. The same capability allows them to target and hit satellites, a capability that’s become more desirable as the U.S. military has become increasingly reliant on satellites for communication, navigation, and intelligence.

Afghanistan

Seven years into the creation of a special visa program to help U.S. military translators from Afghanistan find refuge in the United States, interpreters for American troops are still struggling to get to and stay in the country. The AP reports that backlog of Afghans looking to receive special immigrant visas after helping U.S. forces has grown to 13,000 people. The number of visas available, however, is still quite small with just 1,500 additional visas approved through 2020 as part of recent legislation.

NSA
The National Security Agency’s inspector general is on administrative leave after allegations that he retaliated against a whistleblower at the signals intelligence agency. The anonymous whistleblower in question tells the AP that inspector general George Ellard denied him a job in the inspector general’s office after someone leaked his name to Ellard and the fact that he had filed an ethics complaint regarding financial misconduct at a conference in Tennessee. Three other inspectors general offices looked into the allegations against Ellard and NSA director Adm. Mike Rogers has recommended he be fired after reading the panel’s investigation.

 

Photo Credit: U.S. Army

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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